Tag Archives: Net Galley

#BookReview Nirvana by J.R. Stewart (Blue Moon Publishers ‏@BlueMoonPbh) Two versions and two reviews

Nirvana by J. R. Stewart
Nirvana by J. R. Stewart

Title:   Nirvana
Author:   J.R. Stewart
ISBN:  0993639763

ISBN13:  978-0993639760
ASIN:  B014LLM1XW
Published:  10th November 2015
Pages:  201
Genre:  YA/Science-Fiction/Dystopian/Romance

This review is a bit special but I wanted to share it with you precisely for that reason. I reviewed an early version of this book that was offered through Net Galley before its publication and I was later contacted by the publishers’ (Blue Moon Publishers) PR Department who asked me if I’d read and review the revised version. I decided to share both reviews with you because I felt I had learned from the experience, both as a reader and as a writer.

  • Early ARC version review.

Nirvana by J.R. Stewart. Virtual reality, bees, grief and politics

Thanks to the publishers (Blue Moon Publishers) and to Net Galley for the gift of an advance copy of this book. I have read that it is undergoing major revisions, so it might be that some of the issues mentioned are no longer there if you get the final edition.

Nirvana, despite the name, is a dystopian Young Adult novel. It is set in a future where bees have disappeared and nature as we know it has gone; there are a few places left where people live (the novel takes place in Canada, around Toronto, although there are hints throughout the book that the situation might be slightly different in other places), and the Hexagon (yes, I know) controls “security” (read intrudes in everybody’s privacy, destroys all books and keeps a tight hold on everybody’s activities, words and imagination). Larissa, a young woman whose husband (a very talented scientist) disappeared during a mysterious mission six months ago is not ready to accept his death and refuses to let go.

The novel mostly focuses on Larissa, although the third person point of view sometimes shares the thoughts of other characters, like the Corporal, Serge (a childhood friend of Larissa’s), the psychologist…but not consistently and sometimes it seems to hide things, and we also get letters, documents, etc. The time-line can be somewhat challenging at times as Larissa can flicker between memories (how she met Andrew, her husband, their time at university, some of her musical gigs, her childhood memories including some very dark ones) and things that are happening at the time of the action of the novel, when she is being pressurised by the authorities to sign a document acknowledging that Andrew is death. Although this is how our mind works, sometimes it’s not easy to tell the difference until you get to the next change in perspective. Perhaps a different type of letter or a break would make it easier. I also found the fact that many characters have similar names (all beginning with K, I’m not sure why) made me go back and forth to make sure.

The description of Larissa’s psychological state and emotions is accurate for somebody suffering from a grief reaction (even if in her case she has no real proof that her husband is dead). She feels guilty, angry, sad, confused and doubts constantly about what to do. Her family circumstances were already complicated and she does not know if her sister is alive or not and it’s not difficult to understand that she’d be reluctant to let go of the one bit of family she had left. We might lack outside perspective on her and know little about her previous personality so it’s difficult to get a full picture of the character but this will probably build over time.

I am not an expert in science-fiction but I know world-building can be one of the main strengths of these novels. After reading the author’s biography I understand why the parts that deal with virtual reality (the Bubble, that is where the crème of society live, in a fake world of their choosing, and Nirvana, that is the low-key version that workers might access, but in small doses) are very strong and mind-boggling, even scarily so. By contrast, the descriptions of the rest of the world are very succinct and only much later, when the point of view returns to some of the characters in positions of authority, we get to know a bit more about the world order, but this is more tell than show (although that is one of the difficulties with the genre, maintaining the balance between trying to make the story come alive whilst at the same time leaving something to the readers’ imagination).

The idea behind the politics of that world reminded me of 1984 (the level of intrusion into people’s lives is greater than even insiders realise), and the conspiracy theorists will “enjoy” the implications of some of the things uncovered and suggested towards the end of the novel. They throw an even darker light on the authorities and put into question loyalties and certainties. The comments about the interests behind big funding for scientific research and how those dictate the direction human progress takes made me pause and gave me cause for concern. (Having studied Medicine this is a thing we’re always aware of).

I found the brief discussions on physics and even music theory fascinating, but might not be to everybody’s taste, especially younger readers interested mainly in the characters.

I found the overall story engaging, although the surprise at the end was hinted at and most readers are likely to have guessed it by then, but it is a good twist and it leaves room for much more to come.

This is perhaps a novel that does not fit in comfortably within the YA category, but I think it’s a series worth keeping an eye on, as there are interesting plot lines, characters with plenty of hidden agendas and room for development, and a whole world (or worlds) that we’ve only glimpsed. And virtual reality as you haven’t seen it yet. Ah, and don’t forget to read the writer’s biography. It will make you very uneasy…

  • Published version

Nirvana by J. R. Stewart. Revised version and revised review. Still about bees, and virtual reality, less grief and politics.

Thanks to the publishers (Blue Moon Publishers) and Net Galley for providing me with a new copy of the revised version of the novel.

Let me explain why I’m reviewing this novel for the second time. Nirvana was gifted to reviewers in Net Galley and it garnered many reviews. I was one of the people who downloaded it and reviewed it over the late summer and published a review, aware that the book would not be published officially until later. The site offers you a chance to be kept informed or contacted by publishers with news about the authors and I said I’d be interested. I had a member of the PR department for the publishing company contact me and ask me if I’d be interest in reading the revised version. I was curious and they obliged and sent me the book.

It took me a while to get around to it but when I did I was surprised by how much it had changed. Rather than a revision it was a full rewrite. The story is about a dystopian future where the bees have died, and with them most of the plants and animals. The ‘Hexagon’ controls everybody’s lives, food and entertainment have become big businesses, and virtual reality is the only way people can experience life as it was, but this is also monitored, and very expensive. The really rich can live in a virtual reality paradise, called The Bubble, and there are several in different countries (although the story is set in Canada, near Toronto). Nirvana is the virtual reality system where the protagonist (Larissa Kenders) works and it has been created in its majority by her live-in boyfriend Andrew. Andrew disappears and the authorities tell Kenders he is dead. But he keeps appearing to her whilst she is in Nirvana, and although initially she thinks he is just a virtual reality creation, soon she realises that’s not the case. The rest of the book becomes her attempt at following the clues he gives her to retrieve something hidden but very important to the future of humanity whilst trying to remain alive. It’s difficult to know who she can trust and there are traps and conspiracies everywhere.

The novel now fits more neatly within the YA/NA dystopian genre. The story is told only from the point of view of the protagonist, Larissa Kenders, and in the first person present. It is told chronologically, and that avoids some of the confusion of the previous version. It also allows for a closer identification with the main character, and the reader gets to know more about her, about her activism and how her music was always socially conscious (even if she later realises things weren’t as she thought and she might have been playing into the hands of the big corporations). She is younger than in the previous book, although I wasn’t clear of the timeframe, as she’s supposed to be still 17, bus she has been engaged in campaigns in the past, is a famous singer, and has known Andrew, studied at university and visited many places with him before the Earth became practically a desert. It’s true though, that it falls with the genre’s convention that young protagonists seem to have lived several normal lives by the time we get to meet them.

It is easier to empathise with Kenders in this version and we also get to see more of her relationship with Andrew before he disappears. There are bad characters clearly delineated, some heroic ones (more so because doubts were cast upon them), and a more optimistic outlook. It ends with a big hook and the chase starts again, as it should in a series.

Sadly I missed what I had noted in my first review as perhaps not fitting in the genre. I liked the disquisitions about physics and musical theory that have not disappeared, and there is much less emphasis on the politics and funding of research (it is mentioned, but in passing). Perhaps the author will write, at some point, the book that according to her biographical note she had thought of writing, looking at the truth hidden behind the virtual reality industry and research. I’ll be waiting.

In summary, this is solid YA book, with romance, angst, chases, mystery, a strong, talented and intelligent female character, and an interesting world with a strong ecological theme and a warning. Look after the bees and the Earth before all you have left is just a holographic image and your memories.

 

 

Ratings:
Realistic Characterization: 3.5/5
Made Me Think: 4.5/5
Overall enjoyment: 4.5/5
Readability: 4/5
Recommended: 4/5
Overall Rating: 4/5
 

Buy it at:  
Format & Pricing:
Paperback:  $12.99 http://www.amazon.com/Nirvana-J-R-Stewart/dp/0993639763/
Kindle: $3.98  http://www.amazon.com/Nirvana-Book-1-J-R-Stewart-ebook/dp/B014LLM1XW/

 

 Olga Núñez Miret

@OlgaNM7

http://OlgaNM.wordpress.com

http://www.OlgaNM.com

Thanks to Net Galley and Blue Moon Publishers for the two versions of the novel, thanks to you for reading and feel free to like, share, comment and CLICK

#BookReview The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (@GeraldineBrooks). A fascinating King David, warts and all.

REVIEWS FOR LITERARY WORLD REVIEWS

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks
The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

Title:   The Secret Chord
Author:   Geraldine Brooks
ISBN:  1408705931

ISBN13:  978-1408705933
ASIN:  B00URUOJGY
Published:  6th October 2015
Pages:  320
Genre:  Historical Fiction

Body of review:

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks. A fascinating King David, warts and all.

Thanks to Net Galley and to Little Brown Books UK for offering me a free copy of The Secret Chord in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve always thought that the Bible, the Old Testament in particular, is full of fantastic stories, and there are very few plots you won’t find there. Fratricide: check. Murder: check. Incest: check. Adultery: check. Epic disasters: check. Wars: check. Love: check. Magic and miracles: check. Battle of Good versus Evil: check. Prophecy: check. No matter what your beliefs are, as storytelling goes, it’s in a class of its own.

David’s story is a very good example of it. As the author observes in her comments, he is one of the first characters whose story we follow from beginning to end. It has all the elements a fiction writer could wish for: rag to riches, the weak confronting and winning the battle with the mighty, unjustly accused and outlawed makes a comeback and becomes King. He’s also elected by God. A great fighter and leader but a deeply flawed character. He has great joys, but through his own behaviour, brings tragedy and disaster to his family. Like the best heroes, he is also an antihero.

Brooks chooses a narrator, Nathan, the prophet, to tell David’s story. It all starts as Nathan’s attempt to distract the King, who is upset because he has been asked to remain in the palace after a near miss during a battle. Nathan suggests that buildings and palaces won’t make him live in the memory of people, but telling his true story will (a beautiful justification of the power of storytelling). David decides that Nathan should hear the story from others, not himself, and he does not hesitate in sending him to talk to those who might not have that much good to say about the King, including his mother, his brother, and his first wife. Although we go back and forth in time, through the different versions and witnesses, the action starts at a pivotal time in David’s story as he’s about to commit a series of crimes that will be severely punished.

I loved the book. I hadn’t read anything by the author before, but now I will. She writes beautifully, giving voice to the different characters and bringing them to life. The reader experiences Nathan’s visions, is a privileged observer at King David’s court, and although we know (the same as Nathan) what will happen, it is impossible to not get emotionally involved, and worry and suffer with them. Descriptions of David’s playing and singing, dancing to the glory of God are full of wonder and magic. The book pulls no punches either, and descriptions of some of the brutal acts are also vividly rendered.

For me, the book is the story of an extraordinary man, who did many wrong things, but also many great things, and who loved God and his people, even if sometimes he loved himself a bit too much. He is a warrior, an artist, a statesman, a father, a husband, and a faithful servant of God (most of the time). He acknowledges his wrongdoing and does not shy away from his responsibilities. He’s a human being.

Nathan is also a very interesting figure, at times unable to talk despite what he knows, only a passive observer of the tragedy to unfold. But that’s his role, and despite everything, he is loved and cherished by David and later by Solomon. And he is a great stand-in for the reader, knowing but silenced, frustrated and disgusted at times by the King’s actions, but also at times in awe and moved by him.

I couldn’t help but read some of the comments about the book and it seems that most of the people who’ve taken issue with the book, do not like the suggestion of a relationship between David and Jonathan, Saul’s son (and brother of his first wife). It is strange that in a story with murder, incest, rape, pillage and more, the one thing people find upsetting is the suggestion that David might have had a homosexual relationship. It proves that we all bring our own mind-set to our reading experience.

I am not an expert in Bible studies or that particular historical period so I can’t comment on how accurate the book might be in its detail, but for me it brought to life the times, the people and the events.

I finished the book with a greater appreciation for the figure of David (and particularly thankful that the author decided to end the book at that particular point, and on that note) and a wish to read more of Brooks’s books. If you have an open mind, love lyrical writing and are intrigued by the times and the people of that historical period, this is a unique book.

Ratings:
Realistic Characterization: 4/5
Made Me Think: 5/5
Overall enjoyment: 5/5
Readability: 4/5
Recommended: 5/5
Overall Rating: 5/5
 

Buy it at:  
Format & Pricing:
Paperback:  $15.99 (http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Chord-Geraldine-Brooks/dp/1408705931/)
Kindle: $13.59 (http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Chord-Geraldine-Brooks-ebook/dp/B00URUOJGY/)

Audiobook: $28.61 (http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Chord-Novel-Geraldine-Brooks/dp/1611764777/)

Hardcover: $17.05 (http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Chord-Novel-Geraldine-Brooks/dp/0670025771/)

 

Thanks so much to Net Galley, Little Brown Books and Geraldine Brooks, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK, and if you read any books, please review!

 

Olga Núñez Miret

@OlgaNM7

http://OlgaNM.wordpress.com

http://www.OlgaNM.com

 

#Bookreview ‘Havana Jazz Club’ by LolaMariné (@bcnlola) Love doesn’t conquer everything but art is a great consolation. And an opportunity

Hi all:

I have quite a few reviews that I have accumulated and I plan on sharing some in the coming weeks, but I saw an opportunity for other people who love to review books, and also a chance to help a Spanish author whose books I enjoy.

Lola Mariné (here her Amazon page) is from Barcelona too, and although I haven’t met her personally, I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with her on a variety of occasions, mostly in Facebook. Yesterday, through Twitter, she sent me a message to let me know that one of her novels ‘Havana Jazz Club’ that I read a while back and thoroughly enjoyed (although when you read the review you’ll see that enjoy is not perhaps the best word to use, as the book really pulls at one’s heartstrings) had been translated to English (it was chosen by Amazon and they’ve managed the translation) and was now available to reviewers in Net Galley, FREE. I am signed to Net Galley and it’s a great way to get a flavour for new books (both from independent authors and publishing companies, big and small) and yes, it gives one access to books before they are published. Not all the books (some have copyright restrictions and it might depend on where you live if you have access to it or not).

As the book is not going to be officially published until late in August, I thought I’d take the chance to leave you my review for the Spanish version (translated, don’t worry), and would see if any of you who might be signed onto Net Galley could be interested in reviewing it too. I didn’t see any restrictions on the page that is this one:

https://s2.netgalley.com/catalog/book/69985

First I leave you some information about the book and the author.

Havana Jazz Club by Lola Mariné
Havana Jazz Club by Lola Mariné

Description

Translated from Spanish by Rosemary Peele

Like Lady Day, Billie is young when she falls in love for the first time. Lured by her new playboy husband, the beautiful, trusting woman leaves her close-knit and caring family in Cuba to follow him to Spain. Once there, he reveals his true—and violent—nature, and Billie chooses the dangers of the street over the abuses of the man she once loved. Soon she finds herself with trouble to spare and nowhere to turn, but when her voice lands her a spot at the Havana Jazz Club, she discovers a new, unconventional family in a city far from the one she left behind. And with every high note and heartbreak, Billie skirts destiny to write her own song.

A Note From the Publisher

Lola Mariné is a writer, licensed psychologist, and actress. Born in Barcelona, she worked in show business in Madrid for twenty years before returning to her hometown. There, she earned a degree in psychology while teaching theater workshops to children. She has contributed to four anthologies, Tiempo de recreo (Playtime), Dejad que os cuente algo (Let Me Tell You Something), Atmósferas (Atmospheres), and Tardes del laberinto (Evening of the Labyrinth), and wrote Gatos por los tejados (Cats on the Roofs), a collection of short stories. Her first novel, Nunca fuimos a Katmandú (We Never Went to Kathmandu), was published in 2010.
And here, my review (a word of warning. As explained this is a review of the original Spanish book, although considering Amazon has handled the translation I assume it will be good, but I’ve downloaded the book and will try and check as soon as  I can).

Havana Jazz Club by Lola Mariné. Love doesn’t conquer everything but art is a great consolation

The novel Habana Jazz Club by Lola Mariné narrates the adventures of Billie, a Cuban girl, daughter of a woman who adores jazz and decides to call her Billie as an homage to Billie Holiday, despite everybody telling her that ‘it’s a boy’s name’. Billie inherits her mother’s love for music, particularly jazz music, and luckily for her, that love never disappoints her. Unfortunately, the rest…

I’ve never been to Cuba and I only know about it what I’ve read in books or watched in movies. I wouldn’t dare to comment on how realistic or not the description of Billie’s life before leaving Cuba is, but her home life is endearing and loving and shows us a close and happy family. Although we all know mothers’ are always right, unfortunately Billie ignores her mother’s advice and her mistrust, and marries a boy, who isn’t only handsome but also knows it, Orlando. Billie leaves Cuba and a big chunk of her heart there, and follows her husband, and things don’t work well for them. Billie’s story once they arrive in Spain becomes one of domestic violence and exploitation. And things only go from bad to worse, to the point when she ends up living in the streets of Barcelona, where she is rescued by her guardian angel, Armando. And when things start to look up, the men in her life continue making her miserable. And I won’t tell you anything else because you must read the novel.

Lola Mariné has written a masterful melodrama. There are irredeemable baddies, goodies as sweet as sugar, terrible suffering, and talent and music, plenty of music. There were moments when I couldn’t help reading ahead convinced of what would happen, and that it would be bad, but the same as when we’re dragged by a fast current, I couldn’t do anything else but let myself go and see if I came up, unscathed, at the other side. And despite her trials and tribulations, and the disasters that pepper her journey, or perhaps because of them, the protagonist makes her dreams come true (in a small-scale but…), and creates a family made up of people who love her because she is who she is, and not because she’s been born here or there, or because it is their duty.

The part I enjoyed the most (and I loved it all) was when towards the end, the author, first through Gerardo and later through Billie herself, reflects upon the nature of creativity, about what the really important things in life are, and the tranquillity of feeling happy and comfortable in one’s own skin, without pretending or having to worry about appearances. I hope we can all reach such a state at some point in our lives.

If you enjoy novels with a heart, with unforgettable protagonists, and the stories about self-improvement and personal achievement, I wholeheartedly recommend it to you.

Here is the link to the novel in Amazon, but as I said, it’s not published  yet. Although you can pre-order it.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00U2ZMTZC/

Sorry for not following the usual format but it’s a bit of a novelty. And once the book is out and the author has had a chance to recover, I’ll try to bring her here for an interview. She’s a fascinating woman.

Thanks so much for reading, and you know, if you’re interested, like, share, comment, and CLIC! And if you do, don’t forget to leave a review!

 

Olga Núñez Miret

@OlgaNM7

http://OlgaNM.wordpress.com

http://www.OlgaNM.com